Can a Rhinoplasty or Septoplasty Affect My Sense of Smell?

Rhinoplasty and septoplasty are common nose surgeries; however, they address different issues.

A rhinoplasty is a cosmetic surgical procedure that is concerned with an aesthetic outcome. A rhinoplasty can reduce the size and shape of the nose, bringing it into greater harmony with the rest of the facial features. A septoplasty, on the other hand, is a functional surgical procedure that addresses a crooked, or deviated, nasal septum. The nasal septum, composed of bone and cartilage, separates the nostrils. If it is not properly aligned, the nasal passage can be blocked and breathing impaired. During a septoplasty, the nasal septum is straightened, creating better airflow.

Nose Surgery and Your Sense of Smell and Taste

If you have been contemplating–or are about to undergo–a nose surgery, you may be wondering if a rhinoplasty or a septoplasty can affect your sense of smell. The answer to this common question is yes– however, this loss of sense perception is temporary.

Taste and smell are known as the chemical senses. We are surrounded by smell stimulants–coffee, fresh flowers, an orange–which release scent molecules. Your nose contains fine filaments organized into a sensory nerve, called the olfactory nerve. This nerve, which contains specialized receptor neurons, is anatomically designed to recognize odor. When the scent molecules reach receptor neurons, it triggers our sense of smell.

After a rhinoplasty or septoplasty procedure, the nasal passages will be inflamed, thus reducing airflow into the nose. Because the nasal passageways are obstructed, scent molecules cannot reach the receptors on the olfactory nerve endings. When these odor-detecting receptors do not register smells, the sense of taste is also diminished. (Think about when you are congested or have a cold and can only taste to most spicy of foods.)

As the post-surgical swelling gradually subsides, nasal sensory perception will improve and smells and tastes will become more defined again. In most patients, it takes about 3 to 6 weeks for smell and taste to fully return. In very rare cases, some individuals have experienced a permanent loss of smell after a nose surgery. This is an unlikely outcome and, in fact, some patients have noted that their sense of smell actually improved after a rhinoplasty or septoplasty–likely due to a correction or repositioning of an obstructed nasal passage.

Getting Your Smell Back and Reducing the Risks

Because the loss of smell is related to nasal inflammation, you can take steps to ensure your body heals as best it can. Rest, drink plenty of liquids and avoid activities that could harm the nose (such as certain sports that carry the risk of impact).

Although the risks of permanent loss of smell are low, the best way to minimize the risks is to choose an experienced plastic surgeon for your rhinoplasty or septoplasty. Dr. Alexis Furze, a California board certified Head and Neck surgeon based in Newport Beach, specializes in rhinoplasty and septoplasty. Dr. Furze has gained him recognition for his surgical skill and aesthetic sense in Orange County and beyond.

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